The Dynamics of Corruption
culled from GUARDIAN, April 3, 2005
The myriads of advisers hanging
around President Obasanjo must be cracking their brains over what have they not
done right if they consider the numerous vitriolic attacks their boss is
suffering daily over the pages of newspapers, but more seriously in verbal
discussions and arguments all over the country. On this account, a visitor to
Nigeria would quite easily conclude that President Obasanjo must be the most
unpopular leader Nigeria ever had.
But this would be quite uncharitable.
What the advisers did not do, and why President Obasanjo is unpopular, and I
will now give them this as a free consultancy service both to serve my country,
and if they so accept to save all of us a lot of suffering, is that they did not
undertake a study of the Dynamics and Anatomy of Corruption, especially
afflicting the two biggest and most important utilities in this country, notably
NEPA and NITEL, and for a kind of comparison, I will add the Water Corporations.
For, how they performed or fail to perform affects the very essence of
existence, and therefore the popularity or unpopularity of our leaders.
That these utilities, inspite of
their criticality to our daily lives, recorded abysmal failure since they were
established, nobody can deny. And that their serviceability waned, especially
more astronomically, as we kept on marching into the 21st century too, nobody
can deny. That as they kept on declining, they kept on guzzling more money than
ever before is also completely undeniable. That this President who is now taking
all the barbs, has himself injected a whopping N300 billion into NEPA alone
without any discernible improvement is also on record. In fact, a decline from
generating 4500mw to 1500mw a day marched by similarly graduated power outages
is a pain all Nigerians had suffered. Somebody must carry the can. There is
nobody so obvious and indeed more deserving than the President!
But that is not the main consideration. The main consideration is that we must
understand the dynamics of this tragedy scientifically, so that by applying
scientific knowledge, we can stop the sliding trend and even reverse it. In
fact, there is no alternative to reversing it! You may say it is quite
hackneyed, indeed quite trite to go to a theory of corruption for explaining
such an unfathomable phenomenon and expecting to turn around NEPA and NITEL. Who
does not know the debilitating effect of corruption? Where is it that corruption
does not exist in Nigeria? Is it today that we are blaming all our woes in
Nigeria on corruption?
No, corruption is everywhere in
Nigeria. But the dynamics of corruption differs from organization to
organization, depending on so many variables. One thing that is quite commonly
known is that corruption flourishes "as the gate narrows", as somebody has said:
meaning, the less the product; the more the consumers, the narrower the "gate"
and the higher the prospect for corruption. Men must get what they hunger for.
The dynamics of corruption is as simple as that! In Nigeria, the "gate" is ever
narrowing since Independence in 1960. Even the landmass available to us is
depleting; not only in size, but also in usability. Of the total landmass area
of 923, 768km2 the rain forests constitute a mere two per cent and is depleting
at a rate of 3.5 per cent annually. It will be completely depleted by 2020 if
nothing is done. Bush burning is eating up the Savannahs. Desertification, even
more alarmingly, has already eaten up the far North of about 351, 000km2 and is
rushing on southwards at 0.6km per annum. Fifty-five percent of Borno State
landmass is already under the desert (UNDP/Nigeria Country Assessment 2000).
Against this, you place the fact that
the Nigerian population of 88.99 million in 1991, had reached 115.2 million by
2000. Now it is being claimed to be about 130 million. Thus the "gate" is quite
obviously narrowing, if you consider population to land size ratio. Land as they
say, mean different thing to different people. This is because men need land for
so many different things. Mallam Nasir El-Rufai's bewilderment in Abuja since he
took over the affairs of FCT tells us enough about the dynamics of corruption in
Scarcity is therefore the major
facilitator of corruption. To all the three (3) utilities we have mentioned
above scarcity is a common denominator and in all of them the Nigerian public is
facing a veritable trap the corrupt can use. NEPA, which had peaked at
generating 4500mw per day at one time, had precipitously dropped to generating
only 1500mw a day today. Thus, some States and townships spend days before power
comes back to them. Governors are now begging NEPA officials for little mercies
on behalf of their States and people. All concerned in the tripartide (NEPA,
people, government) in which NEPA rules, know that "egunje" is the only
NITEL, was never designed to do
better. Offering fixed line service of only 700, 000 as installed capacity, of
which only 500, 000 lines are ever operational, NITEL has never served the
country of nearly 1.0mil km2 and a population rapidly moving towards 150
million, well. That it was allowed to exist as it is, is the most glaring
example of leadership failure, the cumulative effect of which is now threatening
to put us at the bottom of even the least developed countries. You may wish to
apply a cost/benefit analysis at any stage of NITEL's existance and you cannot
justify its continued existence. With only 500, 000 lines ever operational for a
population of over 120 million in a country the size of Nigeria, anybody can see
that conducive environment for corruption has been created.
But with NITEL, corruption is not
only at the point of getting a service line. It is only the beginning of
corruption. Corruption gets more sustained and more vicious after you have got
the service line. Permit me to give you my personal experience. When I moved
from Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria, to University of Maiduguri, I was
allocated a house on campus that already has a telephone line number 234096.
After observing the desultory service of this line and having been convinced
that I can never expect continuous service with only one line available to me, I
decided to get a second line, number 342089. My hope was that if one line does
not work at any point in time, one will be working. So, at my own extra cost, no
thanks to the efficiency of NITEL, I can get continuous telephone service. I was
On 23rd March 1998, I was forced to address a letter to the Territorial
Controller of NITEL Plc. Maiduguri, under the headline REPAIRS OF TELEPHONE. I
reproduce the letter in-toto here because it so graphically represents what
every subscriber of NITEL must be suffering in Nigeria. I wrote:
REPAIRS OF TELEPHONE
Dear Territorial Controller,
I own telephone numbers 234096 and 342089. I acquired 342089 simply because
234096 never worked satisfactorily. In fact, there was never any two straight
months in which any one of them worked continuously. Even with both of them
installed in my house (No. Q1, University of Maiduguri campus) the fact is that
most of the time I have no phone.
2. Now, I am travelling out of the
country for an extended period. Both my telephones are not working.
3. I will be grateful if you can
attend to both of them immediately.
One of the reasons for the
privatization of NITEL (with which, as a policy, I have problem) is that NITEL
"was simply neither responsive to its customers nor proactive in terms of its
market outlook" (El-Rufai, Daily Trust, 1 March 2005; p.40). Up to today, my
line 342089 is not working, and I have made report not less than twenty (20)
times, at one time to an incoming Territorial Controller and an outgoing one,
together, whom I met them by chance. No dice! And no explanation. Why is this
My answer is that corrupt and inefficient as they all are (and corruption and
inefficiency feed on each other), mass pressure operates differently on each of
these public utilities. NEPA characteristically delivers its services to groups
of people - in townships; regions, even the entire country, usually from a
central location. Thus, characteristically, NEPA service unit and/or unit of
administration is called NEPA district. When NEPA fails, it always affects a
whole lot of people - among whom the rich, the mighty and the ordinary.
Invariably, all of this will approach NEPA in their respective ways, but the one
NEPA fears most is a mass march against NEPA offices and installations, which
has become quite frequent nowadays. In Maiduguri once the masses marched to
Zannah Bukar Umaru Mandara's house and threatened that they will march on to
NEPA unless he does something about it! Zannah Bukar Umaru Mandara is a popular
businessman in town, and he is usually regarded as a philanthropist.
Another variant of mass pressure on NEPA is from the vitriolic pens of
columnists and newspaper editors. In the last fourteen day period between 27th
February to 13th March 2005 the powerful mass media platform of the daily
tabloids were used to tirade against NEPA to make it come back from its
dangerous slide backwards. In the issue of the Leadership newspaper of 27th
February 2005, the powerful communicator and avowed advocate Comrade Sam Nda-Isaiah,
wrote a punchy exposition of the failure of NEPA in his back page column, under
the simple and stark title, NEPA! The Daily Trust, which can now be regarded the
voice; if not the paper of the North, wrote a mild but devastating Editorial
against NEPA, under the title, BOOSTING POWER SUPPLY in which it did not
hesitate to indict NEPA for putting the nation to shame by plunging even Aso
Rock (seat of power) into darkness! The Daily Sun of 3rd March 2005, which
prides itself as the King of the Nigerian tabloids, wrote in its Editorial quite
disparagingly, saying " for nearly five (5) months now, the National Electric
Power Authority (NEPA), literally slipped into coma, throwing Nigerians into
This Day of 3rd March 2005, paraded
on its must read back page column of Olusegun Adeniyi, who chose to downplay we
Nigerians intense frustration with NEPA by transcribing the acronym NEPA to No
Electric Power Again when people usually say No Electric Power Always! More
directly, Saturday Sun of March 12, 2005 reported: "Mushin residents storm NEPA
office over power outage" (p.12). Not unexpectedly, Saturday Tribune of 12th
March 2005, reported a conciliatory NEPA policy: "NEPA targets grassroots"
(p.4). thus, no matter the rendition, all this would not but bring considerable
mass pressure on NEPA and its officials; rank and file.
Nothing like this is ever brought
upon to bear on NITEL. At any time, NITEL supplies its service directly to the
individual subscriber through one respective flex of wire. Thus, if your phone
goes dead - too bad! Nobody will know. Nobody will join you in your travail!
Your usual contacts will even blame you for tardiness. And, of course, NITEL
will exact the maximum from you if you want your phone back! Corruption is
corruption anywhere, but obviously, in depth, spread and rapacity it more
signifies its presence in NITEL than in NEPA!
To prove the point, we will take the example of another utility providing even
more critical service than NEPA or NITEL - the Water Corporations or Water
Boards. Like NEPA, this utility serves districts and townships. But the Water
Corporations never had the stranglehold NEPA had on people - much less NITEL.
There was no time ever the entire Nigerian people expected to be served by
pipe-borne water. Even in the most sophisticated townships only some specialised
areas are so favoured. Most people buy water from water carriers. And, as
invariably the case, these unfortunates are always from the poorest of the poor.
They can never be able to fix their own price. The cost of water therefore
really never goes through the roof. In any case, people are willing to; indeed
do drink from rivers, lakes or ponds, and usually dig their own wells.
Therefore, the Water Corporation can never narrow the gate of supply as much as
these other utilities can, and do.
As it can now be seen, bribery and
corruption is never really a simple matter of asking and giving. It's a matter
of magnitude and longitude - what pressure the corrupt can exert, which is a
function of how narrow is the gate, how resistant the victim is which is a
function of the indispensability of the service. These are the precise
conditions under which corruption operates, and which give bribery and
corruption their own dynamics and anatomical character, depending on these
conditions. President advisers should know this, and arm themselves accordingly.
Nigerians need and deserve steady and
uninterrupted power supply; cheap and accessible telephone service; potable
pipe-borne water, as everybody else anywhere in the world does. As the public
utilities have proven themselves impervious to our pleadings, public policies
ranging from privatization and deregulation have unremittingly progressed hoping
to bring us succour, without success. We are countering this with private
policies such as digging our own well or installing our own generator. These
will never do. Apart from indicating that this is a complete collapse of the
social contact between us and our government, all of these antics will only mire
us in further difficulties and suffering.
Deregulation and privatization have
come to be seen as the cure-all solution ever since Adam Smith (1723-1790), that
prophet-founder of modern economic statecraft, had come to decree the position
that the government has no business going beyond the concerns of "justice,
police, revenue and arms". As the dynamics and potency of deregulation and
privatization are never going beyond serving the God of Money, I do not see how
Nigerians will benefit from privatization per se. Even if we will, certainly not
with the service of the present stock of personnel - from manager to janitor -
remaining in charge. So, from both patriotic point of view, and self-interest we
must shout, "Buyer, beware"! As for buying your own generator, or digging your
own well; these can never be the solution. Opting out of government, which these
efforts signify, will never solve any problem.
As for our travail under the tyranny
of NITEL, salvation has come to us from an entirely exogenous source -
technological development from outside. Technological development has now put a
handset into the hands of an even the moderately rich Nigerian, and he is
enjoying an infinitely better and more flexible service from his GSM operators.
But this too cannot be a solution of our first choice. It is too expensive. Our
fixed line must work under whatever arrangement. We must realise that the
present circumstance we are in is nothing less than extreme national crisis. We
must overcome this by whatever means, including throwing out all of NITEL, the
equipment and the entire crew, bringing the Chinese to work for us!
Some of us do not believe that handing over our national heirloom to individuals
under the name of privatization will solve our problem. But now that the actions
and inactions of the inept, and corrupt Nigerian State has allowed privatization
to emerge as the only immediate solution, so be it. But, we must admit that even
privatization cannot overcome the desultoriness of decades, which inefficiency
and corruption had induced, and which had now become a self-serving game
throughout the utilities. Neither seller nor buyer can benefit from
privatization. So, in the name of God; patriotism and Mother Country Nigeria -
let us think again!
As the privatization ferver rages on, we must also devise our own self-defence
and interest-promoting measures. We must, village-by-village;
township-by-township; community by community, organize Town Hall meetings and
articulate, present and promote our interests against whatever utility
concerned. This is going to be a non-political citizens' meeting. As those in
power today are suspicious of any meeting at all we will allow the Public
Relations Division of the Police to be part of the meeting, and together, we all
press our conclusions for actualization. This will serve the Public Relations
need of the police better than the Public Relations Officers of the Police
sitting in their darkened offices, fondling their guns, and yelling at the
masses through megaphones, as they presently do.
But the first, and most immediate thing that need doing is for our Presidential
aides and security agents to realize that unless they understand the dynamics of
inefficiency and corruption and face it in appropriate measure wherever it
exists, and also stand with us to face the cankerworm frontally, their boss will
always be unpopular, and our country will remain the laughing stock in the
comity of nations.
Professor Tijani is with the
Department of Public Administration, University of Maiduguri.